As your child grows and begins to babble you will notice that it is going to be slightly more difficult for them to form the words you and I are used to hearing. This is going to cause a great deal of frustration both on your part and your child’s because they are not going to be able to express themselves in quite the way that they want to. You may experience anxiety of your own because you simply cannot understand what your child is asking for and so tension tends to run high during your already busy day.
Early on our son began going to private speech therapy and for us this was at approximately 17 mos. of age. This was important because they worked with our son to improve his tongue movement and strengthen his oral muscles so although you might think that going to speech therapy so early when they can hardly speak sounds ridiculous it truly is an important step in your child’s progress with language.
At speech therapy we spoke at length to his therapist about our frustrations at home and our child’s inability to communicate with us what he wanted and how tantrums were becoming the norm for us. Our therapist suggested we begin introducing sign language as a way to communicate and to eliminate the frustration between us so that he could then focus on his language building skills yet still have a way to get out what it is he is trying to say. They showed us a few “signs” that we could get started with and to go to the internet to look up signs as we needed them.
This was incredible! We went home and the first sign we tried with our son was “cup” so that he could begin telling us that he wanted his milk. He picked up on this within the first day of showing him and would get such a big smile on his face after he was able to “tell” us what he wanted and actually have us get it for him. We began introducing more signs for him while continuing to say the word we wanted him to say. Most of the time he could only get out the first letter or sound and that was okay because he was trying and he was still getting what he wanted and we were able to understand what he wanted.
My daughter picked up on the signing as well and he was able to communicate with his sister and shortly thereafter the grandparents also began seeing us sign and would keep with it so that he could go to any one of them and express what he wanted as well. We saw a change in our son that was immediate. He was no longer throwing himself on the ground out of frustration and we were no longer wanting to pull our hair out over not being able to understand our child.
We found it easier to get him to try and say the words of things he wanted even if he could not get the whole word out we were getting to understand his language. For example, “milk” came out as “miii” but he was trying and he could say the beginning sound so eventually the end of it would come. I encourage you to speak with your therapist about getting some guidance on a few “signs” you can use and incorporate them into your own household as a way of communicating with your little one.
Here is a link www.babysignlanguage.com to help get you started. The website has a few print printable charts and you can even look some of the signs up on YouTube to see how to actually do the sign correctly. Early sign language with your baby is not something just cleft affected children can use to communicate. A lot of parents with typical children incorporate it into early learning and find it useful so this is just another tool for you to experiment with and see how it works for your family.